Thursday, August 06, 2009

There is always an alternative

Roger Federrer won the Wimbledon a few weeks back. And if you read the reports, there is one common central theme. The question being asked is, "Is Federrer the greatest tennis player ever?"

For those of my generation, it is nothing but a feeling of déjà vu once again. Why? When we grew up it was the end of a generation. Bjorn Borg was the latest wunderkind in tennis, along with Jimmy Connors. And in came a certain John McEnroe to rule the tennis world. And then there was Ivan Lendl. A man, McEnroe reckoned with as much talent as his little finger, slowly began to gain in ascendancy and began to defeat McEnroe with regularity. And Lendl rose to hold the world number 1 ranking for a record time. And then of course, when he retired, it was the end of an era. Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg took his place without much ado, followed by Jim Courier for a brief while and then Pete Sampras. And about the time I stopped following tennis, Pete Sampras was the greatest.

But to read the recent reports about Federrer and the rivalry of Nadal and Federrer re-kindled my memory. For every single one of these players, their greatness was sung paeans about, reams written about the passing of an era and pages printed lamenting that "there will never be another XYZ". No, this is not a sports report.

Cut to the release of the Google Operating system a few days back. Actually, it was an announcement, not a release. During the days of Borg, IBM was the big daddy of computer companies and Microsoft was the upstart which challenged the old companies' domination. Then IBM went through its own growth pangs and found wings that took to a dominant position at the enterprise level. Apple, the company which built those beautiful machines (supposedly) was found wanting in the face of the onslaught of Microsoft and would have remained confined to a niche market. Until the iPod and later, the iPhone brought them back to everybodys consciousness. Suddenly, Microsoft is the new old company and Google was the upstart. It overtook Yahoo in no time and the search company challenges Microsoft, Apple and IBM. And if you thought this was the end, it is not. Google is building an OS, Apple is a phone and device company, IBM is still god in enterprise and suddenly Microsoft Surface is a happening technology. And out of the blue, Facebook is the threat to Googles internet dominance. And for each of these, their demise has been prematurely written about, they have been alternatively written off and being praised to the skies and each time they have done something different. (There is an element of survival bias here, I agree, but the world is mostly about survivors, is it not?)

Sorry for this rather long winded detour through sports and technology. But do you get the common thread?

One, there is nothing permanent in business (or sports). There is no 'greatest ever' in sports or in business for that matter. If there is something, it is that there is always an upstart waiting in the wings - be it sports, be it business. It could be you, planning one or it could be the old company down the road. But for most persons talking business in those board rooms TINA is the gold standard - There is no alternative. These are those who seek to continue to rule, those who continue to do things in a certain way that they are used to, those who do not want to try out something different.

Once you enter the world of business, you will find yourself surrounded by people who love status quo and are fans of TINA. The arguments for status quo are always the same.
"We have always done it this way."
"You don't know the way business is run."
"This is how we have succeeded all these years."
"Somebody please teach this guy the way to do business."
"Newly minted MBA, keep your ideas to yourself"
"That is different, this is different."
"I have 10 (insert any number) years experience in this industry."
"This is the documented process"
"Changing this will require multiple levels of senior manager approval"
"Everybody else is doing it this way"

If you are not careful or end up with the lifetime subscription to the comfort zone and once fallen, love the comfort of it, you will know that something is going to shake you up soon. Almost everything that we grew up with has been shaken. The radio industry, the television industry, the telephone industry, the dot com boom, bust and resurrection - ever government and governance, even international affairs. These were the guys who did not stop at 'there is no alternative'. They pushed status quo and found a better answer. If TINA was well and truly right, how could they? Therefore TINA is wrong.

And as you have seen, the right standard is There is always an alternative - TI3A. For a long time, we thought Indian cricket had no talent. Post IPL there is suddenly an abundance of talent. Were they born yesterday or did more players just get more opportunity?

But that is easier said than done. As persons who enter or seek to enter the business, if you are the person in the room who believes more in TI3A than in TINA, you will know how difficult it is. At the same time, using TI3A as your benchmark will enable to push the envelope in almost all business decisions. Start believing in it as you progress through your MBA.

(An edited version of this piece was published in Advancedge, Aug 09)


rocksea said...

true true!

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Daniela said...

Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll likely be coming back to your blog. Keep up great writing.

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